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Wednesday, 04 January 2012 16:14

'La Cage Aux Folles' at the Fox is feisty, funny, and relevant all over again

Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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The Details

  • Director: Terry Johnson
  • Dates: January 3 - 15, 2012
lacage.com / Paul Kolnik
lacage.com / Paul Kolnik

Tuesday night a few thousand Iowa Republicans watched passengers in the GOP clown car argue over who hated gays and lesbians the most. Around the same time, a few thousand St. Louis theatregoers watched a splendid performance of one of the most gay friendly Broadway musicals in living memory, “La Cage Aux Folles”.

It was an evening of industrial-strength irony. Sure, the Iowans got the publicity, but we got the entertainment. Besides, all of the comedy we saw was intentional.

Ingeniously adapted by Tony–award winning playwright Harvey Fierstein from the 1973 Jean Poiret stage farce and 1978 film of the same name, “La Cage’s” plot revolves around the middle-aged gay couple Georges and Albin. Georges owns the nightclub "La Cage Aux Folles" and Albin is his star in the drag show that is the club's main attraction. Their happy 20-year relationship is disrupted when Georges's son Jean-Michel, whom they've raised since the boy's mother ran off shortly after his birth, announces that he's getting married.

The problem? It seems that the father of his fiancée Anne is the homophobic Edourad Dindon, a character whose radical right-wing version of Catholicism, autocratic politics, and sexual obsession are eerily reminiscent of the clown who came in second in Iowa. Jean-Michel’s misguided attempts to make his family look “normal” generate comical complications, all of which are resolved in the inevitable happy ending. Dindon gets his comeuppance, Jean-Michel and Anne are married, and Georges and Albin reaffirm their commitment to each other.

Jerry Herman’s score is one of his strongest, with a French pop-music flavor reminiscent of Jacques Brel or Edith Piaf. Songs like “The Best of Times”, “With Anne on My Arm”, and “La Cage Aux Folles” are both irresistible and unforgettable. My personal favorite remains “Song of the Sand”, which I can never hear without getting embarrassingly misty-eyed.

This tour is based on the 2010 Broadway revival that copped multiple Tony awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. It’s not hard to see why. Matthew Wright’s dazzling array of costumes (especially for the lavishly cross-dressed Cagelles), Lynne Page’s flashy (and, from the look of it, very technically challenging) choreography, and Terry Johnson’s direction all combine to create a seductively entertaining package.

Mr. Johnson’s innovations include moving the orchestra up to boxes on either side of the set’s false proscenium and using the orchestra pit space for cabaret seating that turns the theatre audience into La Cage patrons. Audience participation is actively encouraged — a real benefit in spaces like the Fox, which is five times the size of New York’s Longacre Theater, where the revival was originally staged. There’s even a PG-rated warm-up monologue with the obligatory local jokes by “Lilly Whiteass”, one of the more imposing of the Cagelles.

The cast for this tour is well-nigh flawless. Yes, George Hamilton’s Georges is bland and his line delivery has the offhand quality of a first run-through, but Christopher Sieber’s Albin is nothing short of masterful — vulnerable in “A Little More Mascara” and tough as nails in the famous Act I closer, “I Am What I Am”. In appearance and movement, he’s a bit reminiscent of Harvey Fierstein in his “Torch Song Trilogy” days, which adds a nice bit of resonance to the evening.

Jeigh Madjus gets all the requisite campy comic mileage from the role of Jacob, the family butler who really wants to be a maid. Billy Harrigan Tighe imparts a bit more depth to the role of Jean-Michel than his light line load might imply and has an impressive song and dance turn with Allison Blair McDowell’s utterly charming Anne in “With Anne on My Arm.”

Bruce Winant and Cathy Newman display great comic versatility as both the Dindons and the Renauts, owners of the neighboring café. Ms. Newman, in particular, garnered applause for her demonstration of the “John Wayne walk” in “Masculinity”, the number in which everyone attempts, with little success, to get Albin to butch up.

And then there are “Les Cagelles”, the six cross-dressing chorus members (“Look under our frocks: Girdles and jocks”) at the titular nightclub. They're elegant, energetic, and, judging from their work in the many elaborate dance numbers, possessed of superhuman flexibility and stamina. The Cagelles are, in many ways, the real stars of the show. They certainly have some of the most memorable moments. They are, for the record, Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Donald C. Shorter Jr. Mark Roland, Terry Lavell, and Dale Hensley. The opening night audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.

I suppose I should stop gushing, but the fact is that the only real drawback to this production isn’t the show but rather the venue. Designed for a much smaller house, this “La Cage” places its false proscenium inside the regular false proscenium used by most Broadway tours, so sight lines deteriorate rapidly once you get on either side of house center. The Fox is simply too huge a house for this set — something you’ll want to bear in mind when you order your tickets.

And you should definitely order them. This is as fine a production of this endlessly entertaining show as you can find. Although it’s nearly thirty years old now, it feels relevant all over again in a time when obsessive culture warriors are denouncing loving long-term relationships like that of Georges and Albin as an existential threat to family life when, in fact, they are an affirmation of it. Everyone needs to see “La Cage” now, if only for that lesson.

“La Cage Aux Folles” runs through January 15 at the Fox in Grand Center. For more information, you may visit fabulousfox.com or call 314-534-1678.

Additional Info

  • Director: Terry Johnson
  • Dates: January 3 - 15, 2012

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